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Blogging a bridge from Havana

The New York Times' photography blog reports on Cuban dissident Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo's visit to the U.S.:

Blogging a Bridge From Havana

Havana is a city of flags, says Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo, a Cuban blogger whose photographs show them dangling from telephone wires, draped over headstones and reflected in windows and puddles. The tricolor standard is everywhere.

So, too, is Cuban state security.

They hauled him in one day in 2009 for questioning over a flag photo he never even published. Somehow, he said, they got their hands on a composition of his in which a nude appeared in the same frame as the remnants of a flag. They put him on warning, he said, saying he was at grave risk of committing a crime.

“They said I could get as much as four years for desecrating a national symbol,” he recalled. “I was being incriminated for a photograph that I hadn’t even circulated. I thought what I did in my own house was mine, but he was telling me it was defamatory. He said ‘If they found out in Miami, they’ll stone you. They’re counterrevolutionaries, but they love the flag.’ It was strange.”

He can relate to strange: he is a writer who relishes wordplay and a photographer who captures everyday abstractions and details along Havana’s streets. He is among the island’s small group of independent bloggers who have used the Internet to express themselves and confound both authorities and outsiders.

“He is giving us the poetics of the city that is not touristy, nostalgic or exotic,” said Ana M. Dopico, a professor at New York University who recently participated in a New York conference with Mr. Pardo Lazo and Yoani Sanchez, the island’s best-known blogger. “He is giving people a way to read the politics of daily occurrences, like he does in a picture of a man being arrested on the Malecón. He juxtaposes the eternal beauty of the city and the real political urgencies of the moment.”

Mr. Pardo Lazo’s route to photography — and the dissident blogosphere — was circuitous. Originally trained as a molecular biochemist, he worked in pharmaceutical research for five years before he “got bored” and decided to pursue writing. He had published four well-received books of short stories and started contributing columns to a friend’s blog.

“I had total independence,” he said. “That’s when the problems started.”

One piece — “La Muerte del Caballo,” or “The Horse’s Death” — started it, he said. It was his rumination on the sight of a dead horse that had fallen near a banner of Fidel Castro. But there is also a double meaning, since “Caballo” is also a popular reference to Castro.


Power lines in Havana: Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

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